The captain of the ‘floating hotel’ that collided with a smaller tourist boat causing it to sink has been taken into custody after seven passengers died and 21 remain missing.
The Mermaid sightseeing boat sunk in just seven seconds in the River Danube last night after hitting a ‘floating hotel’ called the Viking Sigyn outside the Hungarian Parliament building.
Seven South Korean tourists died and 21 are still missing, including a six-year-old girl, with searches still ongoing in the Hungarian capital nearly 24 hours after the disaster.
The captain of the Viking Sgyn, identified only as Yuriy C, 64, is suspected of ‘endangering water transport leading to a deadly mass accident’.
Survivors of yesterday’s Budapest boat tragedy described their horror after seeing passengers in the fast-flowing water – but no rescuers coming to help them.
A 31-year-old survivor, who only gave her surname as Jung, told a South Korean news agency: ‘The current was so fast and people were floating away but the rescue team did not come.’
A 66-year-old American tourist who was on board the 442ft Viking Sigyn said passengers weren’t aware of what had happened until they saw bodies in the water.
Ginger Brinton said: ‘We were on our balcony, and we saw people in the water, screaming for help. We never felt any bump. We didn’t realise. We just saw people in the water. It was just terrible.’
Footage shows the larger boat colliding with the 89ft Mermaid on the amid torrential rain shortly after 9pm on Wednesday.
Divers are pictured lowering themselves into the River Danube on Thursday in search of passengers who were on the Mermaid sightseeing boat before it sunk yesterday night
Sightseers look onto the River Danube in the centre of Budapest as searches for the missing tourists continue
A woman is pictured in tears after a boat sank in the River Danube last night, leaving seven South Korean tourists dead and 21 missing
Diving teams are pictured on rescue boats on Thursday as the search continues for the missing Mermaid passengers
Seven South Korean tourists are dead and 21 are missing, including a six-year-old girl, after a river cruise boat crashed into another vessel and sank on the River Danube amid torrential rain in Hungary. Police showed security camera footage from a bridge that showed the Mermaid (left) and the Viking (right) colliding. A police chief said the Mermaid ‘sank within seven seconds’
Impact: Footage taken from a bridge shows the two vessels moments before their collision. Hungarian police said on Thursday they have launched a criminal investigation into one of the country’s worst boat accidents that left seven South Korean tourists dead and 21 others missing
The Viking appears to hit the Mermaid from behind, before the smaller Soviet-era vessel, which was carrying a total of 35 people, spun sideways on impact.
The Mermaid then capsized before sinking in just seven seconds on a fast-moving stretch of the river which has swollen during heavy downpours throughout May.
Seven passengers were said to be in a stable condition in hospital despite suffering hypothermia from the frigid water which was around 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). One person was found some two miles from the scene of the crash, but rescuers say the chances of finding further survivors is ‘minimal’.
Pal Gyorfi, from the Hungarian national ambulance service, said this was ‘not just because of the water temperature, but the strong currents in the river, the vapour above the water surface, as well as the clothes worn by the people who fell in.’
Hungarian police this morning launched a criminal investigation into what is one of the country’s worst boat accidents. Officers have questioned the Ukrainian captain of the Viking, but no details have been released.
The wreckage of the 70-year-old Mermaid – which was refurbished in the 1980s – was found on the riverbed after several hours of searching near the Margaret Bridge, one of the main crossings connecting the two parts of the Hungarian capital. A crane ship docked near the wreck early on Thursday in preparation for recovery operations.
A total of 33 South Koreans were on board with none wearing life jackets, officials from the country said, adding that seven were known to have died.
Police officers are pictured by the River Danube in Erd, Hungary this evening, looking for passengers who were on board the Mermaid when it sank in central Budapest yesterday
As night fell the Hungarian Parliament, near the scene of the boat crash, was lit up, with floral tributes laid on a bridge
Candles were lit on the bank of the Danube where two boats crashed and one sunk leaving seven dead in Budapest yesterday
The Viking hotelship is berthed on the River Danube in downtown Budapest following the collision with the smaller tourist vessel the previous evening
The 86ft Mermaid tourist cruise ship in an undated photo outside the Hungarian Parliament on a previous journey in fairer weather
The collision took place at about 9.15pm close to the Parliament building in Budapest. The Mermaid was found a few hours later near the Margaret Bridge
Divers and technical teams are seen on the banks of the River Danube in the centre of Budapest on Thursday following the tragedy on Wednesday evening
Abrasive damage can be seen on the hull of the Viking hotelship after it struck the other boat – an eyewitness reported seeing a larger vessel run into the back of the smaller tourist vessel
A crane ship docked near the wreck early on Thursday in preparation for recovery operations. Officials say 21 people remain missing and hopes are fading that any of them will be found alive
Pal Gyorfi, from the Hungarian national ambulance service, said the prospects of finding the remaining 21 missing people are minimal. Search operations continued this morning (pictured)
Army divers have joined police in the search, but the operation has been complicated by high water levels and a fast-moving current after weeks of heavy rainfall.
Three bodies have already been found several kilometres south of the disaster site, police said.
A captain of a boat that was near the accident told online daily 24.hu he saw two elderly women being pulled out of the water.
‘I am still in shock. I have never seen such horror in my life,’ the unnamed man was quoted as saying.
‘We were at the parliament when we heard that people were in the water – everyone stopped right away and started helping out.’
How boat disasters have hit Europe in the past
The Danube crash is the latest major river boating accident in Europe. Here is a list of previous disasters.
On July 10, 2011, 122 people drowned when a tourist ship broke up during a storm on Russia’s mighty Volga river, east of Moscow. Built in 1955 and overcrowded, the ship took only a few minutes to sink. Some 80 passengers were saved.
Previous case on the Danube
On October 23, 1996, eight people died after their barge, which was flying a Slovak flag, hit a flood barrier and sank on the Danube, in Austria’s capital Vienna.
Elsewhere in Europe
On June 11, 2018 in Russia eleven people were killed in an accident on the Volga when a catamaran collided with a barge. Five people were rescued.
On July 31, 2011 in Russia a pleasure boat sank after colliding with a barge on the Moskva river. Two people died and six disappeared.
On September 15, 2005 in Russia at least eight people disappeared after their overcrowded boat capsized on the powerful river Yenisei near the port of Dudinka in Russia.
On June 3, 2000 in central France an overcrowded dinghy capsized on the river Yonne near Sens, leaving three people dead. The dinghy, which had a capacity of 12, was carrying 36 people.
On May 29, 2000 in Portugal six crew members on a Norwegian freighter disappeared when the vessel collided with a Korean cargo ship on the Tagus river, west of Lisbon.
Police showed journalists security camera footage from a bridge showing the collision.
‘The footage shows that before the collision the Mermaid turned towards the Viking Sigyn cruise boat, for some reason, the Viking then turned the small boat over, and it sank within seven seconds,’ police colonel Adrian Pal told a press conference.
He said a criminal investigation has been launched for ‘criminal negligence on public waterways,’ adding that police were questioning the Ukrainian captain of the Sigyn.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and President Janos Ader have sent their condolences to Seoul. ‘We are with the victims and their families in our thoughts and prayers in these most difficult times,’ Orban said, according to his spokesman.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the authorities would work with the Hungarian government to investigate the cause of the accident.
‘What’s most important is speed,’ Moon said in Seoul.
The Mermaid started to take on water before it was flipped over and started sinking as heavy storms raged in the Hungarian capital, local media reported.
‘Our services have recorded the death of seven people,’ Pal Gyorfi, a spokesman for Hungarian emergency services, said early Thursday morning.
‘Seven people have been taken to hospital in a stable condition with hypothermia and shock symptoms,’ Gyorfi added.
‘A further 21 people are missing,’ a Hungarian police spokesman Kristof Gal told AFP.
‘Police are searching the river throughout the entire length of the Danube in Hungary south of where the incident took place,’ he said.
Earlier, the news website Index.hu said one of those rescued was found near the Petofi Bridge, which is about two miles south of Parliament.
Local media reported that one of the bodies was found several miles south of the collision location, although Gal declined to confirm.
The temperature of the river water is between 10 and 15 degrees.
The search for the missing with the help of divers and police shining lights continued through the night.
Members of the public are pictured watching the search operation near Margaret Bridge on the Danube in Budapest today
Passengers were pictured leaving the Viking Cruises Sigyn floating hotel this morning – hours after a crash that left at least seven dead
The river flows south, meaning that survivors were likely to be swept through the well-populated, historic part of the city. Pictured: Passengers leave the Viking today
Hungarian police are pictured on board the Viking this morning. Officers have questioned the Ukrainian captain of the Viking, but no details have been released
Seoul will closely co-operate with Hungarian officials so that the rescue efforts can proceed swiftly and effectively. Pictured: A South Korean rescue team prepares to leave for Budapest
A team of South Korean officials left for Hungary on Thursday to assist with the rescue operations and support passengers and their families
A sonar is being used at Margaret Bridge during a search operation on the River Danube in Budapest, Hungary today. The Mermaid is on the river bed after capsizing
Candles and flowers are pictured being laid by tourists and locals in memory of the seven South Koreans who died last night
A woman throws a flower from the Margaret Bridge during a search operation on the River Danube in Budapest, Hungary
The Very Good Tour agency senior official Lee Sang-moo (left) bows to make an apology during a press conference at its headquarters in Seoul, South Korea
A film crew working from a bridge south of the accident site also used reflector lights to help light up the water through the gloom and pouring rain, reported local media.
Heavy rainfall since the beginning of May has led to high water levels and a fast-moving river current, complicating rescue efforts.
The accident happened on a popular part of the Danube river for pleasure trips, from where passengers can view the city and parliament building illuminated at night.
The boat was regularly serviced and had no apparent technical faults, Mihaly Toth, a spokesman for Panorama Deck that owned the vessel, told the Hungarian news agency MTI.
‘It was a routine sightseeing trip,’ said Toth.
‘We know nothing about how it happened, the authorities are investigating, all we know is that it sank quickly,’ he said.
Access to the river has been blocked by the authorities, according to public television.
Dozens of rescue personnel, including from the military and divers, were involved in the search. Employees from the South Korean Embassy in Budapest were assisting Hungarian officials in identifying those rescued and the deceased.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in instructed officials to employ ‘all available resources’ to support the rescue efforts in Hungary.
Moon’s spokeswoman, Ko Min-jung, said in Seoul that Moon also ordered the launch of a government task force led by Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and for officials to maintain close communication with the family members of the South Korean passengers.
A military ship takes part in the search operations for survivors on the River Danube on Thursday morning
A fire brigade rescue boat takes part in the search operations for survivors on the River Danube in downtown Budapest, Hungary on Thursday morning
Dozens of rescue personnel, including from the military and divers, were involved in the search. Employees from the South Korean Embassy in Budapest were assisting Hungarian officials in identifying those rescued and the deceased
Firemen stand at Margit Bridge, where the wreck of a sightseeing boat was found in downtown Hungary
Policemen investigate onboard the Viking hotelship on the River Danube early on Thursday
Emergency services raced to the scene of the accident, which happened during heavy rain
Emergency vehicles are picture on the bank of the Danube in central Budapest after a search for survivors was launched
Hungary boat sinking strikes nerve in South Korea five years after 2014 ferry disaster that killed more than 300
The sinking in Hungary is touching a nerve in South Korea, where many are still traumatised over a 2014 ferry sinking that killed more than 300 people, mostly students.
The grief is compounded by claims by some South Korean tour agents and travellers that there were past safety issues on the Danube River where the accident happened.
A total of 33 South Koreans were on the small boat enjoying the night view of Budapest on Wednesday evening despite a downpour. A preliminary investigation showed none was wearing a life jacket when the boat collided with a larger cruise ship on the river, according to the South Korean government and their tour agency in Seoul.
Nearly a day after the sinking, seven people had been confirmed dead on Thursday, seven had been rescued, and 19 South Koreans and two Hungarian crewmembers were listed as missing.
While the exact cause of the collision still wasn’t known, some said there could have been a lack of safety awareness, as in the sinking of the ferry Sewol in South Korea five years ago that was blamed on a culture that has long sacrificed public safety standards for profit and convenience.
The Sewol, which was overloaded with poorly secured cargo, sank while sailing to the southern South Korean resort island of Jeju, killing 305 people, including 250 high school students.
The sinking in Hungary is touching a nerve in South Korea, where many are still traumatised over a 2014 ferry sinking (pictured) that killed more than 300 people, mostly students
The Sewol, which was overloaded with poorly secured cargo, sank while sailing to the southern South Korean resort island of Jeju, killing 305 people, including 250 high school students
Lim KyoungJae, head of a Seoul-based travel agency who has taken South Korean tourists to Budapest about five times in recent years, said he would have seriously considered whether to go ahead with the boat tour in the strong rain.
‘Heavy rain must have made the current of the river faster and caused low visibility,’ Lim said. ‘If you don’t have a good night view, then you really don’t need to take a boat ride.’
Many sightseeing boats on the Danube turn their lights low to have a better night view of the city. If that was the case for the boat that capsized Wednesday, Lim said those navigating the larger cruise ship may have found it difficult to see the small boat sailing nearby.
The South Koreans’ tour agency, Very Good Tour, said the boat trip was part of a package tour to Europe. It said the agency went ahead with the excursion after the tourists agreed on it.
‘Other boats were making tours too and we decided to go on after passengers agreed,’ senior tour agency official Lee Sang-moo said. ‘Our company humbly accepts all the responsibility that is ours.’
After the capsizing, South Korean President Moo Jae-in cancelled all of his scheduled events and ordered officials to mobilize all available resources to support rescue efforts in cooperation with the Hungarian government. Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and divers who took part in the rescue work when the Sewol sank were to fly to Hungary later Thursday.
The Sewol sinking triggered an explosion of anger over the previous government’s botched rescue efforts and regulatory failures
The swift government reaction was in sharp contrast to that after the Sewol sinking, which triggered an explosion of anger over the previous government’s botched rescue efforts and regulatory failures.
South Korean investigators found that the Sewol’s crew had overloaded the vessel with 185 cars when it had room for only 97. Crewmembers failed to properly fasten the vehicles and containers so they could squeeze in more cargo. Although the captain reported 657 tons of cargo, investigators said the real amount exceeded 2,140 tons, which likely prevented the vessel from regaining balance after making a sharp turn.
Rescue officials then missed a series of opportunities to save most of the passengers before the ship completely sank about three hours after crewmembers lost control. Rescuers saved 172 people, including the ferry’s captain. He is now serving a life prison sentence after a court found him guilty of homicide through willful negligence because he fled without issuing an evacuation order.
The public uproar over the Sewol’s sinking was so large that it contributed to the ouster of Moon’s conservative predecessor, Park Geun-hye, who is currently serving a lengthy prison term over a separate corruption scandal.
A team of South Korean officials left for Hungary on Thursday to assist with the rescue operations and support passengers and their families. Kang was also to travel to Hungary.
The ministry in a briefing Thursday said that the Seoul government will closely cooperate with Hungarian officials so that the rescue efforts can proceed swiftly and effectively. It said the tourists were not wearing life jackets.
The Very Good Tour agency said the tourists left South Korea on May 25 and were supposed to return June 1.
Most of them were family groups, and they included a six-year-old girl. Her status wasn’t immediately clear but she did not appear on a list of survivors provided by the tour agency.
Senior agency official Lee Sang-moo disclosed the identities of the seven rescued South Koreans – six women and one man, aged between 31 and 66. The company is arranging for family members of the tourists to travel to Hungary as soon as possible.
Cruise line operator Viking said one of its ships, the Sigyn, was involved in the collision. It said no one aboard the Viking ship was injured, and that it is co-operating with the authorities.
The boat that sank was identified as the Mermaid, which is described on the sightseeing company’s website as ‘one of the smallest members of the fleet.’ It has two decks and a capacity for 60 people, or 45 for sightseeing cruises.
Mihaly Toth, a spokesman for the Panorama Deck boating company, said the Mermaid was on a ‘routine city sightseeing trip’ when the accident happened.
He told state television that he had no information about any technical problems with the boat, which he said was serviced regularly. Hajoregiszter.hu, a local ship-tracking website, lists the Hableany as having been built in 1949 in what was then the Soviet Union.
Policemen and fire crews are pictured on the bank of the Danube as rain fell on Wednesday night
At least seven people have died and 21 are missing after the sightseeing boat they were on sunk in the River Danube in Budapest yesterday evening
A rescue boat sits by a jetty on the River Danube waiting to be dispatched to search for survivors
The Margit Bridge – or Margaret Bridge – connects the two halves of the city, Buda and Pest, with a large recreational island in the middle of the Danube. It is the bridge just north of the famous Chain Bridge, a suspension bridge originally built in the 19th century that, like the Parliament, is a major tourist draw in the heart of the city.
The river flows south, meaning that survivors were likely to be swept through the well-populated, historic part of the city.
Index.hu reported that other riverboats shined spotlights into the water to aid with the search, and that a film crew operating on the Liberty Bridge farther down the river directed its lighting equipment toward the Danube to assist.
In recent years, Budapest has emerged as a popular destination for film, television and other commercial video production.
Budapest has enjoyed a boom in overseas tourism in recent years. Long-haul flights from as far away as Dubai and Beijing increasingly fly visitors from Asia and the Middle East to the Hungarian capital, a relatively affordable but history-rich European destination.
Budapest’s airport said it handled a record number of travelers in 2018, with passenger numbers surging more than 13 percent to 14.9 million.
Police and rescue crews peer over the edge of a bridge over the River Danube as their colleagues searched the water for survivors